For Today Only, Pi=3

In 1897 the state assembly of the American state of Indiana famously tried and failed to pass a bill which would have had the effect of denying the value of the mathematical constant Pi. It was an attempt to define a method to “square the circle”, or draw a square of the same area as a given circle through a series of compass and straight edge steps. It’s become something of a running joke and internet meme, and of course defining Pi exactly remains as elusive as ever.

Today and today alone though, you can in one sense claim that Pi is 3, because it’s twelve years since the launch of the original Raspberry Pi. The 29th of February 2012 was a leap day, and today being the third leap day since, could be claimed by a date pedant to be the third birthday of the little board from Cambridge. It’s all a bit of fun, but the Pi folks have marked the occasion by featuring an LED birthday cake.

Three leap days ago, your scribe was up at the crack of dawn to be one of the first to snag a board, only to witness the websites of the two distributors at the time, RS and Farnell, immediately go down under the denial of service formed by many thousands of other would-be Pi owners with the same idea. It would be lunchtime before the sites recovered enough to slowly buy a Pi, and it would be May before the computer arrived.

The Pi definitely arrived with a bang, but at tweleve years old is it still smoking? We think so, while it’s normalized the idea of an affordable little board to run Linux to the extent that it’s one of a crowd, the Pi folks have managed to stay relevant and remain the trend setter for their sector rather than Arduino-style becoming an unwilling collective term.

We’ve said this before here at Hackaday, that while the Pi boards are good, it’s not them alone which sets them apart from the clones but their support and software. Perhaps their greatest achievement is that a version of the latest Raspberry Pi OS can still run on that board ordered in February 2012, something unheard of elsewhere in single board computers. If you still have an original Pi don’t forget this, while it’s not the quickest any more there are still plenty of tasks at which they can excel. Meanwhile with their move into branded silicon and their PCIe architecture move we think things are looking exciting, and we look forward to another 12 years and three birthdays for them. Happy 3rd birthday, Raspberry Pi!

A Vintage Flip Clock Gets Some Modern Love

There are multiple reasons why we like [iSax]’s rebuild of a Bodet flip clock from the early 1980s. First there’s the retro charm of the timepiece itself, then the electronics used to drive it, its electromechanical month length and leap year system, and finally because here is a maker lucky enough to have a beautiful tabby cat to share the workbench with.

For those of you unfamiliar with a flip clock, these devices have their digits as a series of hinged cards on a central rotor, with each one being exposed in turn as the rotor turns. This one is part of a distributed clock system in which the clients receive a 1 Hz pulse from a central time server to drive their motors, something easily replicated with an Arduino and an H-bridge. Particularly fascinating though is the month length mechanism, part of the calendar rotor system, it has a small DC motor that is engaged to advance the days automatically by whichever number as part of the month transition. Originally this was powered by a couple of AA batteries, which have now been replaced with a small DC to DC converter. You can see it in action in the video below the break.

With or without tabby cats, we see quite a few projects featuring them. If you can’t find one, you can always make your own.

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Hackaday Links: March 8, 2020

A lot of annoying little hacks are needed to keep our integer-based calendar in sync with a floating-point universe, and the big one, leap day, passed us by this week. Aside from the ignominy of adding a day to what’s already the worst month of the year, leap day has a tendency to call out programmers who take shortcuts with their code. Matt Johnson-Pint has compiled a list of 2020 leap day bugs that cropped up, ranging from cell phones showing the wrong date on February 29 to an automated streetlight system in Denmark going wonky for the day. The highest-profile issue may have been system crashes of Robinhood, the online stock trading platform. Robinhood disagrees that the issues were caused by leap day code issues, saying that it was a simple case of too many users and not enough servers. That seems likely given last week’s coronavirus-fueled trading frenzy, but let’s see what happens in 2024.

Speaking of annoying time hacks, by the time US readers see this, we will have switched to Daylight Saving Time. Aside from costing everyone a precious hour of sleep, the semiannual clock switch always seems to set off debates about the need for Daylight Saving Time. Psychologists think it’s bad for us, and it has elicited a few bugs over the years. What will this year’s switch hold? Given the way 2020 has been going so far, you’d better buckle up.
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